Wilderness Dominate in 2nd Straight Win Over Kenai

Barrett Hall scored twice and Gunnar Thoreson added a goal and two assists as the Minnesota Wilderness cruised to a 7-1 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears Friday night.

A potent power-play aided the Wilderness efforts, as they went 3-for-3 with the man-advantage.  Two of those goals came in a 4-goal third period, as the Wilderness broke open what had been just a two-goal game at the end of the 2nd period.

Max Neill opened the scoring on one of those power plays, firing in a shot from directly in front of the Kenai net while on a 2-man advantage.  The goal with 7:54 left in the first was Neill’s 17th of the season.

The Wilderness (29-21-1) added two more in the 2nd period just 1:21 apart.  Barrett Hall’s first of the night made it 2-0 when he and Jared Mangan converted on a 2-on-1, and Cole Gordon knocked in a rebound of a Charlie Erickson shot to give Minnesota a 3-goal lead.

The Brown Bears (13-35-5) got on the board with 5:25 remaining in the 2nd when Caden Triggs picked up his 12th of the season.

The Brown Bears applied some intense pressure late in the middle frame, and a collision with Minnesota goaltender Konrad Kausch led to him being shaken up.  With 22 seconds left in the 2nd, Matt Smith came in to replace the Wilderness starter.  Kausch ended up earning the victory, his first since Feb. 12, as he snapped a 2-game losing streak, making 22 saves on 23 shots.  In relief, Smith turned aside all four shots he faced.

Going into the third, it appeared the Brown Bears may have had some momentum, considering they had scored last and were buzzing in the final minutes of the 2nd.  That appearance would evaporate early in the third.

Minnesota ended up firing 15 shots on goal in the final frame.  Hall restored the 3-goal lead just 1:02 in when he fired in a shot from the bottom of the circle to the right of Kenai goaltender Bryant Marks.  Thoreson would follow to make it 5-1 with his 14th of the season on a shot from the slot at 5:55. Ren Morque and Calvin Knight completed the scoring with power play tallies with 5:16 and 2:09 left, respectively in the period.

Marks would finish the game with 28 saves, as Minnesota outshot the Brown Bears 35-27.

Along with the perfect power-play statistics, the Wilderness penalty kill remained strong, stopping Kenai on all three of its chances.

Morque’s goal was his first in his Jr. hockey career in just four games with the Wilderness.  He also added one assist for his first multi-point game.

Thoreson’s 3-points allowed him to usurp Niko Rexine for the team’s top spot in scoring.  The Andover native now leads in points with 52, one point ahead of Rexine after joining him as the 2nd Wilderness player this season to hit and exceed the 50-point mark.  Rexine finished tonight’s game with 1 assist.

Notching 2 assists was defenseman Max Ruoho.  With 39 on the season, Ruoho has tied the Wilderness record for most assists in a single year.  That record was first set by Aaron Miller in 2014-15 and matched by Eric Gotz in 2017-18.

The victory Saturday was Minnesota’s 3rd consecutive and 4th in their last 5 games.  Coupled with a Janesville loss to Chippewa, it also broke a tie with the Jets in the Midwest Division standings, allowing the Wilderness to be the sole occupant of 3rd place.

Minnesota will conclude its 6-game Alaska trip, and 9-game road swing, Saturday with one more contest at Kenai River.  Puck drop at the Soldotna Sports Center is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. AK time.